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Fast start propels Jackie Robinson RBI to Senior crown

Special to

ARLINGTON -- On the day after the closing ceremonies of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series, where the program featured awards given out by Sharon Robinson -- daughter of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson -- for essays written about overcoming adversity, it seemed fitting to have Jackie Robinson RBI from Jersey City, N.J., in the Senior Division championship game to take on the Anaheim Angels RBI.

Jersey City RBI wrote its own story in the final game at Globe Life Park, home to the Texas Rangers, downing the Angels RBI, 7-3, to take home its second RBI World Series championship in three years.

The first inning set the tone of the game when Jersey City tallied four runs on four hits, and it never trailed from there. The aggressive approach for Jersey City paid off as it was able to have Angels RBI starting pitcher Andrew Pactwa replaced on the mound after only one inning of work.

"When we first started the tournament, I told our kids that we were winning it this year," Jersey City head coach Ron Hayward said. "The plan was to come here and win, and the kids did everything we asked them to do and that's how we won."

Leading the way offensively for Jersey City was left fielder Mark Venice, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the Senior Division championship. Venice finished a home run away from the cycle, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. To finish the tournament, Venice had a tournament-high .563 batting average, a 1.465 OPS (second highest), seven RBIs (tied for third most) and eight runs scored (second most).

"I was glad I was able to help the team out in the championship game," said Venice, who will play baseball at St. John's University in New York next season. "It's a great feeling to come out and play well and help this team win a championship."

Getting off to a quick start was part of the game plan for Jersey City. By scoring five runs in two innings, it allowed starting pitcher Josh Felix and relief pitcher Josh Witherspoon to control the tempo on the mound and pitch their games. Although the two pitchers weren't overpowering, with only two strikeouts in the game, they allowed Anaheim to put the ball in play and let their defense do the work.

"The first inning, there were some nerves out there," said Venice. "You're playing in a Major League ballpark; it's a different atmosphere than a high school stadium, but we got over that real quick and were able to settle down after scoring some runs."

Witherspoon came in to relieve Felix with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Anaheim appeared to be in position to make a comeback. Trailing, 5-3, Angels RBI had runners at second and third for two-hole hitter Coby Kauhaahaa. Witherspoon wasn't fazed by the pressure and got Kauhaahaa to ground out to end the inning and any chance Angels RBI had of a comeback.

"It's an honor and I'm so grateful for the opportunity given to me by RBI to be here this week," said Felix, the winning pitcher of the championship game. "My team had my back on the mound and the guys came out hitting today. I had a feeling we were going to win [the championship] again, and to have your dreams come true is something special."

Ryan Cox is a contributor to